Making movies is hard, but making a movie in the middle of pandemic is even harder. However, despite the restrictions and difficulties, the team behind a new comedy made it happen. And they nailed it.
Recovery, a narrative feature entry in the 2021 SXSW event follows two sisters who brave a cross-country road trip in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to save their grandmother from her potentially infected nursing home. The film’s writers and stars Whitney Call and Mallory Everton (also a co-director), along with the other co-director Stephen Meek set up to deliver a comedy everyone can enjoy detailing those early, eerie weeks of the lockdowns.
“We were really hoping to make people feel like they were hanging out with friends when they were watching. Like we understood it’s been a terrible year, let’s just have a light trip together,” Everton detailed about the script, and that’s exactly how the film feels from start to finish.
We had a chance to chat with all three of the creators about why this story, why now, how they managed to create this mid-pandemic and of course, one of the most important topics, their favorite road trip snacks.
Nerds and Beyond: First, because of the times that we’re in, what were your first few weeks of lockdown like?
Stephen Meek: No idea.
Whitney Call: I feel like everyone’s gonna have the like “Where were you on 9/11? Where you were in the 2016 election? Where were you when COVID happened?” Honestly, like for me, it didn’t just feel like, oh all the things I’m doing have stopped, it felt like all the things I ever want to do are not going to happen. Like everything that I’d been pursuing, everything that I had so much passion to work towards, I thought like 2020 … it honestly was the first like the five minutes of the film. It was like 2020 is my year, I have like got these things lined up, I’m so excited, and once March hit it hit me to be like “Wow, so everything that I’ve worked through, it could just like, [snap] like that, be taken from me.” And so, what’s the point? Why should I try anymore? Because it’s just gonna go away. And you have no control. It was a dark time for me.
Stephen: It was a dark time.
Mallory Everton: I feel like I had a lot of frantic energy? Like a lot of “You’re fine! You’re fine, Mallory, you’re fine. This is fine. Everyone’s fine.” I think I was in denial. But I remember slowly embracing the puzzle life and like just trying to stay like, again though, I feel like I was being a little oppressively like “just use this time to relax, you know you’re kind of a workaholic Mal, now you can just … maybe this is a gift” and genuinely it’s not. It’s not a gift. Hard things happen, and its a terrible, horrible thing, but I have just have very vivid memories of completely swapping my days and nights and eating dinner, like heating up a bowl of chili at around 3 a.m. and watching like a 90s movie and thinking, “You’re depressed.” [laughs] Like, there’s just no … you’re not fine. And it took me probably, yeah, like we were saying 2-3 weeks to really realize like, this is not going to go away in a couple of weeks.
I know that we had locked down for just a couple weeks at first, but more and more podcasts and news stories were coming up saying that this was gonna last forever, and it started, I think, just forcing us all into a lifestyle of expecting change and taking things one day at a time. And it was a painful process.
Nerds and Beyond: Yes it was.
Was there a certain catalyst that made you guys go “Let’s make a comedy about this!” Like did you want to try and make [the pandemic] better for everyone, or was it “We just have to do this?” What exactly made you want to tell this story?
Whitney: It was, I think, a way to stay sane. We just thought “We gotta make something.” And initially we had just been spitballing scripts and you know, could we write a feature together? Could we write something together? But it started gradually morphing into like getting more and more hope, and so having higher and higher dreams of possibilities until we got to the point where we thought, “You know what? We’ve gotten nothing else to do.”
Normally if we wanted to make a movie right now it would be taking away from the time we’d be doing actual work that we’re getting paid for — we’d be losing out on other opportunities — and right now there are no opportunities so, let’s just actually make a movie. Let’s write what we know we can film right now, let’s write what we know we can afford to actually fund ourselves, and let’s actually do something.
Because we’ve never been able to get over that first feature hump, and it just seemed so impossible that we thought like if we do it ourselves at least we’ll have done a movie and we can get that out of the way and start going down this road. So that’s kind of where we just thought, like, let’s do something and the process kind of unrolled from there.
Mallory: Yeah. I mean, I just remember I feel like it was around the end of June we had started talking about [it] first — I was still in L.A. at the time cause I moved to L.A. right before the pandemic started [laughs] like an idiot — and we were hopping on Zoom calls to talk about our script ideas because I think we were both just sort of in a fog and wanted something to create some hope. Like maybe there will be a world where we can make things again someday, and then it was when we started watching some bottle movies like Locke with Tom Hardy, it takes place just him in a car the whole time, and The Trip we’d seen years before when it’d come out and we re-watched that. It was very inspiring. It made us think “Oh, maybe there’s work that can be done even when the world is over [laughs].” And the idea that there might be something at our fingertips that we could make was pretty electric.
Whitney had this old road trip idea that she had been sending me scripts for, it was a series idea about these two sisters who drive cross country to dispose of a body. And I was like, “Is there a version that’s chill enough that we could make it ourselves right now?” We landed on the rescue idea and it just, I don’t know, popped out after that.
We wrote out an outline in about two days, and then we started writing the script and that was around the time when it was the beginning of July and we realized that all of the festival submission deadlines were coming up in October or late September. And it was kind of a terrifying juncture, but we were like, “If we’re going to make a movie that has COVID in it at all and we want to learn anything about this festival process we should submit to this festival and not next year’s. So, do we do this?” And we decided to go for it.
So we wrote it in two weeks, we pre-produced in two weeks, we shot in two weeks, and then we got the first cut out in two weeks and it was hellish, but it happened!
Whitney: We did it!
Stephen: Here it is.
Nerds and Beyond: It was worth it! I loved it!
Whitney: It was, honestly. And I think we did it all for the learning experience. If we had not gotten into any festivals I would say we came away from it already feeling like we did what we set out to do, no regrets.
Mallory: No regrets.
Whitney: Like we felt very proud of our product, so everything after that is honestly just the cherry on top.
Nerds and Beyond: Were you guys nervous about writing about a pandemic since there’s so many different … viewpoints … on it? I know you put that kind of “anti-mask” person in there, but I thought it was great that in the end you guys didn’t shun her. I thought that was a nice little touch. Were you guys nervous putting it out knowing that it’s very left/right, hot/cold?
Whitney: A lot of viewpoints!
Stephen: Yeah. We did want it to be something of a time capsule movie. So, even though it got started writing like three months after everything started shutting down, a lot of the ideas and viewpoints were drawn from that March and everything kind of going crazy and nobody knowing what’s safe and what’s not and people being like “It’s no big deal!” and we had no idea that it would continue to march relentlessly on for all the way til now.
There might have been some sensitivities that we would have tried to incorporate more but I feel like we definitely tried to make it more about this relationship between Mallory and Whitney and their sisterhood and their love for each other over anything like specifically like COVID-19.
Whitney: And that’s how I think we addressed Erin’s character too, the sister, cause I think we wanted to come at this film maybe breaking a few of the traditional rules of storytelling. Like, we didn’t have the sisters fight in the movie, we didn’t have any big blow up or anything like that, and we didn’t really have an antagonist. I think Erin’s what comes closest. But throughout the whole thing I think it’s honestly the real deal when you have a family member like that, even if you just totally see from opposite ends of the spectrum, you love them and you know them and connect with them. And so having this story told without any sort of feeling of like there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way, we were just like “Hey what do you connect with and what helps you just like get through what we just went through?” And that’s what we tried to give people.
Mallory: Yeah, and we did our best to try and avoid being too … we tried to be inviting and kind. We really tried to avoid anything too political. And purposefully, like Stephen was saying, set it to be earlier so that everyone might understand it’s more about the specific anxieties of these two characters than it is necessarily about what anyone should do, you know? Just telling this specific story from their viewpoint but hopefully not in a way that felt oppressive. Again, we just wanted it to feel like such an easy time for everyone.
Nerds and Beyond: What kind of difficulties arose from filming in the tight space of a car? I know you guys had some interesting angles to kind of give someone a different “thing” to look at. What was that like, especially for the camera?
Stephen: We had a really wonderful director of photography, Brenna Empey, she was very much like a fourth partner in this whole work. We got this wonderful process trailer to make it all possible but she just knew how to make it all look good, honestly. That’s an oversimplification!
Whitney: You had the vision and then she was like “No no no, I see the picture in your head, I’m gonna actually make it happen now.”
Stephen: We have been told by others it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as we thought it was going to because we really had just a few angles. We did a little bit of posted kind of stuff to see more profile type stuff but we were very, very anxious that it would feel you were just truly stuck in this car. So a lot of the B-roll out and about in Utah and the various locations, the pit stops that they make along the way, we definitely tried to make them as open and airy as possible. I think we got there, in terms of not feeling claustrophobic.
Whitney: And that I think is a shout out … cause we were still kind of in lockdown so we thought “Okay, how can we write this movie to feel like we’re going cross country when we’re not really leaving like a four hour radius?” And I think that’s a testament to just all of the really cool terrain that we have here in Utah. There’s deserts, there’s mountains, there’s forests, there’s prairie, there’s just all sorts of things we thought “Okay, we can write to this.” We can make it kind of feel like you’re going through a few different areas when really we’re all still kind of trapped.
Nerds and Beyond: One more, since it’s a movie about a road trip, what is everyone’s favorite road trip snack?
Stephen: Salt and pepper Triscuits.
Whitney: [nods] Salt and pepper Triscuits.
Stephen: Have you guys had the salt and pepper ones? The cracked pepper. I’m trying to remember, I don’t remember the name exactly.
Whitney: Cracked pepper, yeah.
Stephen: Cracked pepper but with a little bit of cheese or something. That’s so good! That’s so good on a road trip!
Whitney: I’m such a sweets person. Like while we were filming, we would often stop at gas stations and I would get the share size of Peanut Butter M&Ms and I didn’t share ’em. I mean those were mine, that was my thing. It maybe was a little too much by the end of the day but mm, Peanut Butter M&Ms, that’s my go to.
Mallory: I’m just gonna say I’ve done a lot of solo road tripping and I like to just have the biggest box of Cheez-Its possible and I like to eat it as fast as I can.
Keep an eye out for Recovery at other film festivals and hopefully soon on your screens! Be sure to check out our review of the film as well!